WASHINGTON – President Bush on Thursday presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, to leaders in medicine, government, the judiciary and the military.
In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Bush lauded and joked with five recipients and Annette Lantos, who accepted the award on behalf of her late husband, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif.
The Medal of Freedom was established by President Truman in 1945 to recognize civilians for their efforts during World War II. The award was reinstated by President Kennedy in 1963 to honor distinguished service. It is given to those deemed to have made remarkable contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, culture, or other private or public endeavors.
This year's recipients were:
—Dr. Benjamin S. Carson Sr.: In 1987, he performed the world's first successful operation separating twins joined at the back of the head. He is director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. Bush talked about Carson's mother, who raised Carson and another son alone. "Every week the boys would have to check out library books and write reports on them," Bush said. "She would hand them back with check marks as though she had reviewed them, never letting on that she couldn't read."
—Dr. Anthony S. Fauci: An adviser to the government on global AIDS issues, he is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Bush said that Fauci still quotes what he learned from Jesuit teaching — "Precision of thought. Economy of expression." And the president quipped, "And now you know why he never ran for public office."
—Lantos, D-Calif.: The Holocaust survivor, who died of cancer in February, was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is remembered as a champion of human rights. Bush recalled Lantos' remarks as he announced his retirement from Congress. "His words were not of despair, but of gratitude for a nation that had given him so much," Bush said. "`Only in America could a penniless survivor of the Holocaust receive an education, raise a family and have the privilege of serving in the Congress."'
—Retired Marine Gen. Peter Pace: One of the Iraq war's military architects, Pace retired last year as 16th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first Marine to hold the post. "He performed his duties with a keen intellect, a sharp wit and a passionate devotion to our country," Bush said.
—Donna Shalala: Health and human services secretary under President Clinton and now president of the University of Miami, she helped lead a presidential commission charged with getting wounded military veterans better health care. Shalala was destined to be a leader, Bush said. "When Donna Shalala was 10 years old, a tornado struck her house in her neighborhood near Cleveland," the president said. "Her parents searched throughout the house for young Donna, but couldn't find her anywhere. She was finally spotted down the road, standing in the middle of the road directing traffic."
—Laurence H. Silberman: Appointed by President Reagan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he helped lead a presidential commission investigating flawed intelligence about Iraq's prewar weapons of mass destruction. "Judge Silberman has been a passionate defender of judicial restraint," Bush said. "He writes opinions that one colleague has described as always cutting to the heart of the matter — sometimes to the jugular. His questioning is crisp and incisive and at least one lawyer who was subjected to his inquiries actually fainted."